`The Fugitive' case re-opened

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The Independent Online
THE HIGHEST court in the state of Ohio is allowing Sam Reese Sheppard to sue for the wrongful imprisonment of his father, Dr Sam Sheppard, in the latest instalment of the celebrated Fifties murder case. If he wins, the heir to the man whose story partly inspired the television series, The Fugitive, could win up to $2m.

Sam Sheppard snr was imprisoned in 1954 for the murder of his wife, but always protested his innocence. The US Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict 10 years later, in a landmark decision that cited the unfair effect of pretrial publicity. Sheppard was formally acquitted in 1966, with a groundbreaking defense that helped make Sheppard's lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, famous. Sheppard died of liver disease in 1970, but his son has continued the battle to clear his name and now believes that the latest DNA techniques provide the proof. "We won our day in court," said Terry Gilbert, the younger Sheppard's attorney. "It's all we've been looking for the last three years. Justice for the Sheppard family may be in sight."

For the current lawsuit to succeed, Dr Sheppard would have to be found innocent, a more definite verdict than the 1966 acquittal required. During his lifetime, he insisted that a "bushy-haired" burglar had beaten his wife to death at their home on Lake Erie and had knocked him unconscious.

The suspect favoured by Sheppard's son is the couple's window-cleaner, Richard Eberling, who was later convicted of another murder. He died in prison earlier this year, but always said he did not kill Mrs Sheppard.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the lawsuit should proceed on the slenderest - 4-3 - majority, and state prosecutors may appeal to the US Supreme Court to stop the case going forward. They had argued that too much evidence had been lost since the earlier trials and too many key witnesses had died.

The Assistant Prosecutor of Cuyahoga County, George Sadd, said of the ruling: "We're just terribly disappointed."